Commonwealth of Independent States

Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), community of independent nations established by a treaty signed at Minsk, Belarus, on Dec. 8, 1991, by the heads of state of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. Between Dec. 8 and Dec. 21, the three original signatories were joined by Armenia, Azerbaijan (its parliament, however, rejected ratifying its membership until 1993), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. When Georgia joined in 1993 all of the former republics of the USSR except the Baltic states had become members of the CIS. Georgia withdrew in 2008 (finalized 2009) following its conflict with Russia over South Ossetia. The headquarters of the CIS are in Minsk.

The organization was conceived as the successor to the USSR in its role of coordinating the foreign and economic policies of its member nations. The treaty recognized current borders and each republic's independence, sovereignty, and equality, and established a free-market ruble zone embracing the republics' interdependent economies and a joint defense force for participating republics. Strategic nuclear weapons, in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine, were to be under the joint control of those republics, with day-to-day authority in the hands of the Russian president and defense minister; Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, however, no longer possess such weapons. The CIS at first convened only a council of the heads of state of its members, but in 1992 it convened a council of heads of government and a council of foreign ministers.

The republics' level of receptivity to integration with Russia has varied. All CIS nations now have their own currency, and most members have had occasion to criticize Russia for slow implementation of CIS agreements. Ukraine (which had a prolonged disagreement with Russia over the disposition of the Black Sea and remains wary of Russian power, particularly after Russia took sides in the 2004 presidential election), Turkmenistan (whose large gas reserves free it from dependence on Russia), Azerbaijan (whose oil reserves also allow for independence from Russia), and Moldova (which faced an insurgency in the Russian-dominated Trans-Dniester region) have been relatively inactive in the alliance, and in 2005 Turkmenistan became an associate member. Armenia (surrounded by the Muslim nations of Azerbaijan, Iran, and Turkey), Georgia (with separatist movements in Abkhazia and South Ossetia), Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan (vulnerable because of its limited natural resources) accepted Russia's protection under a joint defense system and Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan also signed the Collective Security Treaty, but Azerbaijan and Georgia later withdrew from the defense agreement. In 2002 the treaty adherents agreed to establish the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which superseded the CIS as a forum for military cooperation in 2005. Uzbekistan, which had suspended its security treaty membership in 1998, joined the CSTO in 2006. Uzbekistan and Belarus did not join the other CSTO nations in establishing (2009) the CSTO's rapid reaction force, and in 2012 Uzbekistan suspended its membership in the CSTO.

Because the CIS has remained essentially a regional forum, progress toward the integration of its member nations has tended to take place outside the organization. In 1996, Belarus signed a treaty with Russia to coordinate their defense and foreign policy apparatus and to eliminate trade restrictions and eventually unite their currencies. Individual sovereignty is to be maintained, but they created supranational bodies to effect these changes. The two nations have since signed several follow-up agreements, but actual progress toward integration has been slow. They, Kazakhstan (which has a large Russian community), and Kyrgyzstan additionally agreed to pursue economic integration without customs restrictions. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan later joined the economic grouping, which became the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) in 2001, but Uzbekistan suspended its membership in 2008. In 2003, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine agreed to form a Single Economic Space; the treaty was ratified the following year, but subsequent tensions between Russia and Ukraine led the latter not to participate in the agreement (2009) led to a customs union in 2010 and a common economic space in 2012. In 2011, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, and Ukraine signed a free-trade pact; Uzbekistan joined the free-trade zone in 2013.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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